Last weekend, Dave Dombrowski rolled out the fog machine and lasers, establishing his offseason presence with a typically Dombrowskian trade: Red Sox acquire ninth-inning deity Craig Kimbrel, Padres receive a Hallmark card bearing the inscription "Merry Hot Stove!" and containing several Scratch-n-Win tickets. In response, Tigers Internet said, quote, "RAAAAUUURRRGHHH!" and demanded a counter-move by Al Avila, who is spending the offseason learning to play Rummikub and catching up on Fargo episodes (if that same Tigers Internet is to be believed).
This is all very easy to fix, really. The Tigers have already been linked to the Yankees and their ace reliever Andrew Miller, who was official property of the Detroit Tigers at one point in time, until they traded him for some Triple Crown winner named Miguel Cabrera. Live and learn, I guess. The Yankees, for their part, are said to be willing to part with Miller in exchange for a front-line starter. You can do this, Mr. Avila. You can see Dombrowski's Kimbrel and raise him a Miller, fixing the Tigers' bullpen forever (or for three years, whichever comes first).
All it would take is trading Anibal Sanchez.
Ahhh, there it is: the sound of hundreds of hot takes being lined up and loaded into the digital cannons. Let me just get out in front of this: yes, I've lost my ever-loving mind (long time ago, if we're being honest), don't talk about my mother that way, so's your face, and if you think this is a dumb idea, stick around, I'm just getting warmed up.
Anibal Sanchez is not going to be an easy piece to move. He's had injury issues, and he's going to cost at least $38M for the next few years. But even with the shoulder problems, he's still averaged around 155 innings per year over the last three years, with a combined 3.62 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 1.181 WHIP in that span of time. And the salary problem? Please. The Yankees have been printing their own money for years.
The benefits of a trade like this are obvious. Not only does it give the Tigers a "sure thing" for the back end of a bullpen that hasn't had a "sure thing" since Willie Hernandez's mustache, it also frees up about $17M in payroll, $9M of which goes right back into Andrew Miller's salary. That leaves $8M to do other things, such as signing another starting pitcher because we just blew another hole in an already fragile rotation.
Nice going, us.
Which brings me to the real meat of this post: rosterbation. That's what the offseason is for, right? If the Tigers traded Sanchez for Miller, that would mean one less bullpen arm to acquire, but a total of three starting pitchers. (Assume that Shane Greene isn't going into the fourth slot.)
If we estimate that the Tigers have around $40M to play with, we can add in the $8M in savings on Sanchez's contract and work with that total figure of $48M to spread around on three starters and two bullpen arms and see what we come up with.
Salary predictions are all taken from MLB Trade Rumors. My formulas assumed Justin Verlander and Daniel Norris are in the starting rotation, that left field isn't being upgraded past Tyler Collins, and the team will score a worst-case scenario 715 total runs. Finally, just to make sure this little fantasy has an ice-cold splash of cruel reality, I am assuming the bullpen includes Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol, and Bruce Rondon, who will appear in at least 50 percent of the games and contribute a total of 185 extra runs surrendered. (That's not just a number I pulled out of my ass, either -- that's a number calculated on a spreadsheet using a series of variables pulled out of my ass.)
Alright, let's start forecasting the future without Anibal Sanchez.
Option 1: Scott Kazmir, Yovani Gallardo, Doug Fister, Shawn Kelley, Antonio Bastardo
Two important factors to remember: a starting pitcher's ERA can be mitigated by a lights-out bullpen (see "Royals, Kansas City"); Andrew Miller averaged 0.3 runs allowed per game last year. That's a nice fixed variable to have in any bullpen performance prediction formula.
Yeah, Doug Fister had a weird year in 2015, but since leaving Detroit, the Tigers completely re-tooled their infield and made it very friendly for a pitcher like Fister who averages somewhere around a 50 percent groundball rate.
Shawn Kelley and Antonio Bastardo allowed an combined average 0.63 runs per game in 2015, and pairing that up with Andrew Miller gives the Tigers a three-headed bullpen monster that will surrender less than a run per game on most nights.
Put it all together with Scott Kazmir and Yovani Gallardo, and it leaves the Tigers with about a million dollars left over (maybe they can lower the price of pizza at the stadium or something). It also results in 635 runs allowed and projects to a win/loss record of 89-73, which may or may not be enough to win the division, but it should at least get them a wild card spot.
Option 2: Scott Kazmir, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ian Kennedy, Oliver Perez, Antonio Bastardo
OMG WTF, not Ian Kennedy! Yes, his numbers can be unsightly, but his home runs rate might be helped by Comerica Park, which yielded 11 fewer home runs than the league average ballpark. Also, remember the Royals Rule: Kennedy's RA/9 of 5.08 gets nearly cut in half if you have an impenetrable bullpen that can take over in the sixth or seventh inning. We can make this work.
We're also adding the more expensive arm of Hisashi Iwakuma in exchange for the less-expensive arm of Oliver Perez, who is being over-looked by just about everybody for some reason. He just came off a two year contract with the Diamondbacks for an AAV of about $2M, which is cheap labor for a guy put up a 2015 FIP of 3.30 and an 11.2 K/9. Add that to Bastardo's 10.0 K/9 and Miller's 14.6 K/9, and there's going to be a hell of a lot of whiffing going on in the late innings.
The final tally? All of the available payroll gets spent, the Tigers allow 694 runs for 2016, and finish the season 83-79.
/stuffs hands in pockets, kicks at the dirt
Ok, that was a dumb idea.
Option 3: Scott Kazmir, Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Oliver Perez, Antonio Bastardo
This scenario is different! It only adds two starters, and assumes that Shane Greene will be in the rotation (putting up numbers somewhere between his 2014 and 2015 totals). In exchange for weakening the rotation just slightly, we add the run production of Dexter Fowler -- a fairly significant upgrade from Tyler Collins.
Adding Fowler means dumping Iwakuma's more-expensive arm and putting Gallardo back in his place, because honestly, Gallardo is probably a better pitcher and less expensive, so, look, I'm sorry I even brought up Option 2 -- let's just forget it even happened.
This option also burns up all the available payroll (damn, back to paying full price for the stadium pizza) and ends with the Tigers allowing 684 runs. However, the extra runs support means the Tigers finish with a record of 87-75, which is definitely not winning any division titles, and probably isn't enough to clinch a wild card spot either.
GOD WHY IS IT SO HARD TO MAKE THIS WORK?!
Option 4: J.A. Happ, Yovani Gallardo, Doug Fister, Dexter Fowler, Shawn Kelley, Antonio Bastardo
Yes! Now we're talking! Cheaper arms! Better arms! Added run production!
J.A. Happ had a rough start in Seattle in 2015, but the finish at the end of the year in Pittsburgh was solid: 63 ⅓ innings, 2.19 FIP, and a K/9 up to 9.8 from 6.8 in Seattle. Maybe he can keep that rolling in a Tigers uniform.
The big problem with this fuzzy version of the future is that it takes an extra $11M beyond the budget to pull it off, and I don't know if Mike Ilitch will allow it. It comes with a projected finish of 92-70, though, so if he's serious about getting the hell after a World Championship this year and putting the "pedal to the floor," this may be the way to go.
The first option was probably the best one, especially if Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez can add run production slightly above their career norms. The Royals won 95 games in 2015, but that included going 10-9 against a sickly Tigers team that beat them 13-6 in 2014. That's a four-game swing, and that just might be enough to take the division with an 89- or 90-win season. Just squint, smudge the numbers a bit with your thumb, and you can see some hope for 2016.
Hey, it's a better outlook than this:
Tigers could catch every break and contend in 2016. More likely scenario, it seems: They'll have the biggest July fire sale in MLB history.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) November 16, 2015